“Inerting 170 Dahlgren and 6.4-inch Brooke projectiles” – Preserving artifacts recovered from the CSS Georgia

Operations recovering the CSS Georgia from the Savannah River continue to make the news cycles.  Last week the project posted video, photos, and information detailing the safe inerting of artillery projectiles recovered from the site:

Even 150 years old, those projectiles are dangerous.  We’ve visited that topic several times.  I’ll often hear folks discuss how these artifacts should be saved, yet very lightly deal with the dangerous nature of the still active munitions.  Almost as if with a wave of the hand the explosives could be rendered inert.  No, the inerting of those devices requires careful handling, by trained professionals using proper equipment.  We see that in the video.

MuniRem rinse

The crew blended older methods with new technology:

Driver's seat

And the result were safe, preserved artifacts that will help tell the story of the CSS Georgia.


The article adds, “Their abundance of caution was not unfounded, as the pair found dry black powder in an overwhelming majority of the projectiles.”  The team used MuniRem to chemically neutralize the black powder.

Row of Brookes

The projectiles included those for rifled guns – Brooke or guns modified by the Confederates during the war.  Also seen are shells for Dahlgren smoothbores:


Other photos show fuses.


Though with relatively small amounts of powder, even the fuses presented a safety hazard.  Nobody should lose a hand while “holding history in their hand.”

Again, I must applaud the work done by the Corps of Engineers and other organizations involved with the recovery of the CSS Georgia.


Another Dahlgren recovered from CSS Georgia … and a rifled one at that!

The days since the Sesquicentennial ended have been very interesting for those of us with an interest in heavy Civil War ordnance.  Three cannon came out of the PeeDee River in South Carolina, once armament of the CSS Pee Dee.  Two rare Brooke rifles and a Dahlgren shell gun.  And there is the ongoing recovery operation in the Savannah River, aiming to remove the CSS Georgia’s remains before dredging widens the ship channel there.  Earlier this summer the Army Corps of Engineers shipped four recovered cannon, to include a Dahlgren smootbore and a 6.4-inch Brooke Rifle to Texas A&M University to undergo preservation treatment.

And last month, authorities announced a surprise finding… another Dahlgren gun found in the Savannah River.  That makes a total of three Dahlgrens recovered this year.  And this one is identified as a rifled Dahlgren.

DahlgrenPress releases from the Army Corps of Engineers provide only details as to the weight, being 9,000 pounds. That weight puts the weapon in the IX-inch Dahlgren class. But I am unfamiliar with any rifling of that type, class of weapon by either Federal or Confederate sources.  It is possible, given the general weight provided in the release, that the Dahlgren was cast to the IX-inch form but bored out to a smaller caliber.  Likewise it could have been a smoothbore with groves added.  Confederate sources used both practices to provide rifled ordnance during the war.  Views of the cannon in the photos lead me to believe this is a IX-inch that was rifled. Interesting to note, authorities speculated there would be a second Dahlgren based on documentary evidence.  And the recovery of rifled projectiles of a sort not matching to the already identified weapons lead them to believe this second Dahlgren was there at the river bottom. Here are some more photos of the Dahlgren:




After 150 years and nine months under the Savannah River, the Dahlgren is now on dry land.  I’m looking forward, years ahead, when all the artifacts from the CSS Georgia will be on display.

CSS Georgia to the surface “in chunks”; Artifacts recovered, photographed, preserved

Earlier this week, press releases from the Army Corps of Engineers updated the progress with the recovery of the CSS Georgia.  From the Stars and Stripes:

After 150 years at the bottom of the Savannah River, the armored skeleton of the Confederate warship CSS Georgia is being raised to the surface one 5-ton chunk at a time.

Navy divers who began working in late June to recover cannons, unexploded shells and other artifacts from the riverbed finally started midweek on their last major task – retrieving an estimated 250,000 pounds of the Civil War ironclad’s armored siding….

Earlier in June, the team released video of one cannon being raised out of the Savannah River.

First cannon from CSS Georgia removed

Four cannon have now gone to Texas A&M to receive treatment (Andy, any connections up there at College Station?). Throughout the summer, the Corps of Engineers has offered views of the progress on their website.  In addition they’ve posted photos of the artifacts on their Flickr page:


150615-A-SM817-070C_capsquareGrapeshot stand and cap



Profile cut of casemate

All of which has me looking forward to a day when these are conserved, preserved, and on public display.

I’m reminded of something Ed Bearss said in regard to the recovery of the USS Cairo, to the effect, “we learned how not to recover a Civil War ironclad.”  Over fifty-some-odd years, we’ve seen many advancements in regard to technique and technology in this field.  Good to see it applied in this case.  I again applaud the Corps of Engineers and the other organizations involved for taking such careful efforts to recover the CSS Georgia.

CSS Georgia update: Delays raising the ironclad… for a good reason

I’ve mentioned the project to recover the CSS Georgia a few times here on the blog.  What has been recovered has been, to say the least, impressive.  Savannah’s WTOC reported that over 8,000 artifacts had been recovered as of the first days of June. The project belongs to the US Army’s Corps of Engineers.  But since the ship technically belongs to the US Navy, their drivers are taking the lead.  The Savannah, Georgia ABC-TV affiliate (WTVM), offered an update on the progress of the recovery, noting some delays.  There’s a video on their site, but let me pick a few particulars out for emphasis:

The Navy was supposed to start the recovery on Monday, but the project has been delayed because divers continue to find more artifacts. Officials are hoping the Navy can start bringing up the vessel in about three more weeks.

Yes!  Better to have a thorough effort to recover artifacts and get this done correctly.   The WTOC news link also comes with a video with shots of some of the 8,000 artifacts being recovered.  Lots of good stuff!  The artifacts are being shipped to Texas A&M for processing, handling, and treatment.

Quoting Russell Wicke, Corps of Engineers spokesperson:

“The first part of that phase, they’ll be bringing up the stuff that could actually blow up.”

For the second week in a row, I get mention unexploded ordnance and proper handling.  Doesn’t matter that the shells have been underwater for 150 years.  These must be treated with respect.  Let’s not confuse proper risk mitigation with disregard of history.  If the team is able to safely recover, inspect, and – if needed – disarm those munitions, then everyone wins.  If they cannot do that  safely, then we shouldn’t second guess the call.

The long term goal of this recovery is preservation:

Navy officials said they hope to have the CSS Georgia removed by the end of August. Texas A&M will be restoring most of what is brought up, and the Army Corps hopes to have the iron clad on display here in Savannah one day.

I’m not sure if there are any discussions as to where the ironclad might be displayed.  I have some ideas of my own.  But I trust those responsible are going to make good decisions in that regard.

And something to keep in mind with respect to this project – this is “Part 1” of a larger project to expand the harbor of Savannah.  Part 2 involves dredges which will enlarge and re-build the ship channel leading to the Atlantic.  The Corps of Engineers have, in my opinion, given history and preservation high priority in this project.  I predict that one day we can showcase this as an example where preservation did not translate to some impediment to progress.


“Should any delay occur it will arise from the endless excuses made by ladies….”: Savannah families permitted to pass through the lines

Relative to other points, say Vicksburg or Atlanta, the capture of Savannah to Federal troops in December 1864 involved a very short siege.  The speed of that campaign and the Confederate military’s focus on extracting their forces meant that a sizable population was left behind in the city.  And a large number of those left behind were family members of Confederate soldiers.  Quite naturally requests came forward to allow those who wished an opportunity to pass through the lines.  On January 9, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman, in a message to Major-General William J. Hardee, routed through Major-General Joseph Wheeler, gave his approval:

General: Yours of January 8, with dispatches inclosed, is received. I will send the families, as requested, to Charleston Harbor, and give public notice that a steamer will take them on board here on Wednesday, and suppose they can reach the anchorage off Charleston next day.; but should any delay occur it will arise from the endless excuses made by ladies, which General Hardee will understand. I will order my quartermaster to have a steamer at the wharf all Wednesday, to transport families to Charleston, to carry a small guard and flag to our gun-boat anchorage, and thence to such point as the naval commander may suggest.

“Endless excuses?”  There you have it.  Among other things, Sherman was a misogynistic pig.

To his Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Langdon C. Easton, Sherman instructed:

I have undertaken to send the families from Savannah to Charleston, and have fixed Wednesday, the 11th instant, to take them on board at our wharves. Captain Audenried, of my staff, will conduct the business, and I will authorize any expense necessary to carry out the undertaking. Please give public notice that the families who choose to leave Savannah under existing orders will be transported to Charleston, and that a steamer will receive them at such a time at such a dock on Wednesday. Place the steamer at the disposal of Captain Audenried. I think the admiral would cheerfully give you the use of the Harvest Moon, and Captain Audenried can relieve you of all details by simply giving him the necessary means and authority.

Very clear, specific orders that deserve attention.   Sherman wanted to be fully focused the invasion of South Carolina.  He was a general, and that’s the sort of stuff generals do.  But matters such as these families distracted him.  So what did he do?  Communicate a statement of intent to his staff so they would carry it out. This is little more than “please get this off my plate, OK?”

Captain Joseph Audenried was among the best staff officers of the Civil War.  Brian Downey provided biographic article with particulars of Audenried’s Civil War career for his Antietam on the Web project. Audenried was, as of January 1865, one of Sherman’s aides.

So what is the point here?  OK, having used Sherman’s somewhat humorous line in the first message to bring attention to this otherwise obscure, mundane aspect of the activity at Savannah, we see an example of how a good staff officer operates.  And at the same time, how a good commander uses a good staff.  Often you will hear derisive remarks about staff officers having cushy jobs.  Perhaps a staff officer’s life has some perks (the general’s mess being one of them).  But to keep that cushy job, a staff officer must perform well under the close observation of his boss.  Furthermore, the tasks given to staff officers are more often than not the unglamorous, but very much necessary, chores that need not pull the command away from important duties.  Things like the relocation of Confederate families, at their own wishes, to a transfer point.

How many things could go wrong with this operation?  One delay, one mistake, or one foul-up, Audenried’s fault or just an act of nature, might land this otherwise minor, unimportant operation on the front page of the newspapers.  Any resolution short of “transfer was completed with nothing significant to report” would be measured by degree of failure.  And a minor failure would not play well.  If nothing else, injury or insult of these families would provide the Confederates some “play” for the papers.  So Audenried did not have a “simple” task by any means.

Consider – we read little of this movement of families out of Savannah in secondary sources. Indeed, one has to dig around the Official Record and other primary sources in order to piece together what happened.  The transfer of the families took place at a busy time, on both sides of the line, and at a point where hostile guns fired almost daily.  Yet, I have practically nothing to write about it, save mention of a few dispatches.  I would submit that “consideration” is evidence of good staff work by Audenried.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, page 29.)


Grant suggests organizing more USCT regiments: “they can garrison the forts and islands”

Through the opening weeks of 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman worked out several details that would enable success in his planned campaign through South Carolina.  Logistics and the line of march were particulars which needed attention.  And at the same time, Sherman had to figure out how to leave Savannah in good hands.  Based on the examinations by Captain Orlando Poe, Savannah needed a division-sized garrison.  The question was not if Savannah would be abandoned (as Atlanta), but how to provide that garrison.

Sherman preferred to keep his force intact.  At first he suggested the invalid men from those corps, then consolidated at Nashville, might provide the manpower.  But their numbers were not sufficient and the resources to move and organize them was prohibitive.  The Department of the South, under Major-General John Foster, barely had the manpower to hold the coastal garrisons as it was, much less take on Savannah.

One possible solution to this manpower issue lay in the contraband camps.  But Sherman seemed reluctant to go there.  In a telegram to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant on January 5, 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton suggested:

I think it would be useful if you would write to Sherman, urging him to give facilities to the organization of colored troops.  He does not seem to appreciate the importance of this measure and appears indifferent if not hostile.

Catching Stanton in route to Savannah for a meeting with Sherman, Grant communicated later that day:

I am just in receipt of a letter from Sherman, asking me to re-enforce Foster so that he will not be compelled to leave a division of his army there. Please say to Sherman that I will send the division now embarking at Baltimore. They probably will reach him two days after you do. I wrote to Sherman some time ago to direct Foster to organize negro troops to do garrison duty. Please say to Sherman that if Foster will go to work and organize colored troops they can garrison the forts and islands, leaving all of his white troops for Savannah and the camp at Pocotaligo, enabling the division which I now send to return in the spring, if necessary.

So the temporary solution was to move a division from the Shenandoah Valley to Savannah.  That pulled a “playing piece” off the very active portion of the board to an inactive one.  Beyond that short term solution, Grant preferred to see US Colored Troops organized for the garrison.  And as Grant wrote to Stanton, the process was already in motion.  On the last day of December,  Army Chief of Staff Major-General Henry Halleck had directed Foster to start organizing military units from the contrabands at Savannah.  On January 8, Foster received that message and responded:

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 31st ultimo in regard to the organization of all the able-bodied negroes brought in by General Sherman’s army to this department for service in this department, and beg leave to express my gratification at this decision, because I need troops for garrison duty very much, and I can soon make these men available for that duty. I have several officers whose military excellence and gallantry fully entitle them to promotion to be officers in the new regiments. I anticipate no difficulty whatever in organizing these regiments and in obtaining most excellent officers. I will report the appointments, as soon as made, for confirmation by the President. In obedience to your direction, as soon as the letter was received I submitted it to General Sherman, who desired that I might carry out the order as soon as he moved and the city was turned over to my command. Until such time he desired the services of all the negro men in the quartermaster’s department in loading and unloading vessels and in other preparations for a forward movement.

Some of the troops recruited at Savannah went into the ranks of existing units.  But the main fruit of this effort was the 103rd, 104th, and 128th USCT regiments.  Three regiments to replace a division?  And formation of those regiments required more than a letter to Washington.  None of the regiments were mustered in before March.  However, all three regiments remained active through 1866, preforming duties during the early reconstruction period.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 16, 18, and 28.)

“The rebels have driven off everything that they could….”: Ward’s reconnaissance into South Carolina

On December 30, 1864, Brigadier-General William T. Ward received orders to move his division, of the Twentieth Corps, across the Savannah River.  His mission was to reconnoiter the South Carolina side of the river and push back any Confederate pickets.  Ward was to push up the Union Causeway that weeks earlier had been the Confederate’s route of retreat out of Savannah.  Facing Ward were detachments of Confederate cavalry which patrolled to the Savannah River, occasionally firing on Federals. But the cavalry would not cause Ward any large problems.  Instead, it was the weather which caused the delays to this Federal foray.

Ward was directed to use pontoon bridges to cross the Savannah River (Point #1 on the map below).  Federal engineers had repaired those used and partially destroyed by Confederates on December 21.  Ward later reported:

Accordingly I directed my brigade commanders to move at 6.30 a.m. on the morning of the 31st of December, 1864, and moved with them across one channel of the Savannah River onto Hutchinson’s Island, and after crossing which I found that from some cause the bridge was not completed, nor was it likely to be for several days. I at once caused search to be made for small boats, and after much labor in a chilling rain, and under the fire of the enemy’s vedettes, I crossed a portion of my First Brigade, which quickly drove the enemy from the river. Not being able to cross the remainder of this brigade same night I recalled that portion already crossed and camped the brigade upon the island.

Brigadier-General Daniel Dustin, commanding Second Brigade of Ward’s Division, recorded:

Crossing over the first channel to Huchinson’s Island, it was found that little or no progress had been made toward bridging the second channel.  The day was excessively uncomfortable, a cold rain was falling, and the troops who had not yet been reclothed since the last campaign, suffered much.

By nightfall, Dustin’s troops were back in camp outside Savannah.  Thus ended Federal movements on the last day of 1864.


On New Year’s Day, 1865, Ward attempted crossing again, sending across once more First Brigade under Colonel Henry Case, “by the most indefatigable labor.”  And again they met the Confederates on the far bank, as Case recalled:

When we commenced crossing rebel scouts and vedettes on the left bank of the river annoyed us with their fire, killing one corporal and wounding one private.  As soon as the rear of the brigade had crossed I immediately pushed out about six miles into the interior and arrived at the residence of Doctor Cheves about 9 p.m., the rebel scouts and vedettes retiring as I advanced.

Case’s advance reached the old Confederate works around the Cheves and Hardee Plantations. (Point #2 on the map)  (Oh… and if you are wondering, no Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee did not have a direct connection to the plantation, nor to Hardeeville in Jasper County, South Carolina. Though his distant relatives were responsible for the placename.)

Having only sufficient boats to move one brigade, Ward had his Second and Third Brigades return to Savannah and camp for the night, “on account of the severity of the weather.”  On the morning of January 2nd, Ward attempted to cross the remainder of his command.  Dustin put his lead regiment across by boats.  But soon the Army Steamer Planter (yes that storied ship again!) arrived to transport the remainder of the division.  While Case’s brigade remained forward in the former Confederate works, the other two brigades remained at Screven’s Ferry (Point #3).

On January 3rd, Ward consolidated his command around the Hardee plantation and began sending forward patrols.  As Ward reported:

I have in person this morning reconnoitered several miles up the road toward Hardeeville. Trees have been felled in the road from the rice-fields to this place and for many miles beyond. I have removed them to this place and for one mile and a half beyond; the others I will not cut out until I have a more minute and extensive examination made farther up the road. The rebels have driven off everything that they could and killed and left dead on the road everything they could not drive away. Few rebels seen. Their camp-fires plainly seen (from a large post) last night, but are not to be seen this morning.

The Confederates were making good on orders issued by Hardee in December.  They would leave nothing behind that might aid the Federals.  Ward added particulars about the Confederate works (Point #4) which he felt would make a good post for his command:

The fort is built on the Hardee farm, about one mile from here. It covers about three acres, large enough to encamp 2,000 men; has embrasures for about fifteen or twenty guns. It is on the highest ground near the road. I think it the best place to encamp my division.

At times, this post is referred to as “Fort Hardee.” But that was not official, and there appears to be some confusion with the works on Hardee’s plantation and other works at Hardeeville, captured later.

On January 4, Ward sent patrols toward the New River Bridge (Point #5) and Jonesville beyond.  Major Hiland Clay led the patrol to that place, and reported no Confederate resistance.  The Confederates retreated before the Federals arrived, continuing their practice of leaving nothing behind of value:

Major Clay also brought in two contrabands from Jonesville, who report that all the cavalry pickets in the river bottom, after the skirmish with my men last evening, were drawn in and retreated full speed through Jonesville last night, up the roads toward Hardeeville, saying that the “Yankees were coming;” since which time they have seen no rebel soldiers near Jonesville, and that they think all of them have gone back to Hardeeville. Before they left they shot down all the hogs and cattle and took all that the “poor negroes” had to eat, stating that the Yankees would get it if they (the rebels) did not kill, destroy, and take it.

Another patrol reached out to Red Bluff to the east (Point #6).  Confederates had built a substantial battery there, which included a columbiad and two rifled guns, to prevent passage up the New River. But the heavy guns were drug off shortly after the evacuation of Savannah.  Federals found an empty fort (which is still there today, on private property), and also a potential port:

They found the roads leading to it high, dry, and good. The fort good but small; the water ten leer deep at low tide; several roads leading from it up and down the river; fine ground for encampments. The fort is three miles from my troops. Captain Crawford and Lieutenant Tuttle, of my staff, think that my troops could be supplied by landing stores at that point.

For all intents, by January 4, Ward had achieved the advance proposed by Colonel Ezra Carman earlier in December.  The difference was that Carman wanted to trap the Confederate army, while Ward was by then chasing them up the road.

For the moment, Major-General William T. Sherman was content to hold this advanced post in South Carolina.  While Ward’s men were patrolling, the Seventeenth Corps was embarking at the Thunderbolt docks for transit to Port Royal.  The string restraining Sherman for the moment was not the Confederates in front of him, but that of logistics.  Still, he planned to launch his next major movement by mid-January.  So the important work of staging troops in the right locations continued.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 782, 788, and 802; Part II, Serial 99, pages 12-13, and 15.)